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Fruit of the Month: Plantain

A staple on most Costa Rican tables, the delicious plantain can be sweet or starchy, depending on when it's harvested and how it's prepared. Most commonly, green plantains are pounded into small fritters and fried into patacones, which are irresistible when dipped in refried beans. Costa Ricans satisfy a sweet tooth by frying ripe yellow plantains in a bit of oil and sugar, caramelizing the outside into a crunchy, candied treat. 

Known in North America as the banana plantain, this tropical fruit also goes by the names beer banana, bocadillo plantain, and cooking plantain. In Costa Rica, plantains are called platanos (plah-tah-nose); unripe plantains are "platanos verdes" and ripe plantains are known as "platanos maduros." Plantains are indigenous to tropical areas including Southeast Asia and Oceania. They grow throughout Costa Rica and are available in every farmers' market and grocery store for about 30 cents each.

Plantains can be fried, boiled, steamed, baked or grilled; they are also dried and ground into flour, brewed into an alcoholic drink, and sliced thinly and fried into chips. In Costa Rica, some plantain varieties, like "platanos cuadrados" (square plantains), are eaten raw like a banana. Costa Ricans also use plantain leaves to wrap Christmas tamales, and plantain flowers can be eaten raw or added to soups.

A medium plantain contains approximately 220 calories, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 2 grams of protein, and 40-50% of your daily vitamin A and vitamin C. If you're watching your weight, try boiling one as a snack: just halve a ripe plantain, cut off the ends, and boil until the skin pops open. Sweet and healthy!

Low-sugar Plantain Bread

(Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman's Banana Bread)

  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar
  • 1/4 cup sunflower oil
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (substitute with 1/4 cup milk + 1 tsp vinegar; let sit for 5 minutes)
  • 2 plantains, as ripe as possible
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350º F (175º C). Spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with Pam or similar spray, and coat lightly with flour. Remove any excess flour.

2. Sift or whisk together whole-wheat flour, white flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

3. Mash plantains until mostly smooth. The riper your plantains, the easier they will liquefy.

4. In a separate bowl, beat eggs and sugar for 5-8 minutes, or until the mixture forms thick ribbons. Add in oil, buttermilk, plantains, and vanilla.

5. At low speed, beat in dry mixture in three separate additions. 

6. Pour into your loaf pan and bake 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes, then move to baking rack. Note: If you have a large harvest of plantains, let them ripen to the point of extreme softness. They'll freeze well and will make delicious plantain bread.

Fruit of the Month: Plantain in Pictures

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